The World’s Quirkiest Car Museum Takes Us On A Tour Of Turn Signals And Trafficators

Lane Trafficator Top

I think it’s safe for me to say that you beautiful Autopians really like your taillight and trafficator content. It’s also safe to say that here at the Lane, out of 560 cars, I have a chance to stroll through some of the more interesting light-bulb based traffic communication devices from around the globe.

Now, I picked the following cars based on what catches my fancy. So, if you dear readers have any special requests based on cars in the museum’s collection, I’ll be taking requests like an all-night DJ at that taillight bar Torch keeps talking about.

This week I’ll focus on pre-war trafficators, also known as semaphores. These early turn signals were like illuminated flags that extended out from the B-pillar (or in front of the A-pillar) so that they could be read from either direction of travel.


051129-N-0685C-007.Persian Gulf (Nov. 29, 2005) Ð Quartermaster Seaman Ryan Ruona signals with semaphore flags during a replenishment at sea aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). Roosevelt and embarked Carrier Air Wing Eight (CVW-8) are currently underway on a regularly scheduled deployment conducting maritime security operations. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Javier Capella (RELEASED)…


First appearing on automobiles in the early 1900s, trafficators were modeled after railway semaphores, which were themselves modeled after sailors communicating via flags on the deck of ships at sea.

1938 BMW 320 Cabriolet



Our first trafficator is from a lovely 1938 BMW 320 Cabriolet, with working semaphores located on the side of the hood.

1935 Mercedes-Benz 130H

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This 1935 Mercedes-Benz 130H is an example of a car having trafficators AND a singular rear taillight cluster with what appears to be an amber running light. I think the red light below the amber is the brake light, but I could have that backwards.

1938 Adler Type 10


This streamlined autobahn cruiser is our 1938 Adler Type 10, and has a whole heap a’ lights on it.x

[Editor’s Note: This Adler is also significant because I believe it is the first car to use the famous sloping headlights that would appear on VW Beetles, buses, Porsches 356 and 911, DKWs, Mercedes trucks, and many many more cars. – JT]


Check out these lovely fender mounted parking lights.


At some point this Adler’s trafficators stopped working, and the owner had them replaced with chrome aftermarket bumper-mounted amber turn signals. I believe they used the trafficator’s electrical wiring, because they work with the factory turn signal switch.


Also, check out this stylized art deco hood ornament. It’s very Sam the Eagle from the Muppets to me.

1939 Peugeot 202 Decouvrable

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Speaking of art deco and streamlining, check out these fender-mounted parking lights from this 1939 Peugeot 202 Decouvrable.


The taillights are also enclosed with the rear license plate.


Here’s a bonus look at this Peugeot lion’s head hood ornament.

1935 Tatra T-57

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Ok, one more from the 1930s, this time from Tatra’s pre-streamlined models. Instead of trafficators, this 1935 Tatra T-57 has what I call “ice cream cone” flashing turn signals atop the A pillar.

1953 Gutbrod

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Our final trafficator is from a 1953 Gutbrod, a German microcar more famous for being the first car fitted with mechanical fuel injection. It doesn’t light up, as we have had trouble getting the engine to stay running, so I had to hold it out manually.


Interestingly, it was made by Klaxon, the English signal company, not the awooga horn manufacturer.

By the 1950s, trafficators were on their way out, with flashing front- and rear-mounted turn signals becoming more of an industry standard. Next week, I’ll feature more of post-war taillight clusters, as well as some modern treatments.

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19 Responses

  1. “By the 1950s, trafficators were on their way out”
    Morris Minor had them up to the 1960-61 models.
    My ’59 Tourer had “Trafficator Delete” plates installed where they’d go as it was made for the American import market which didn’t allow them. I’m fitting a set because I think they’re just so darn cool.

    1. I’ll dig into this car’ ownership story in the future, but it simply wound up in France after the war, and passed through a few owners before being bought by the museum. It’s definitely one of those “if this car could talk” kinda things.

  2. New life goal: acquire a pile of money large enough to acquire a BMW 320 and retire to a life of running it in British Trials, simultaneously compressing my spine and showering the spectators with chunks of mud.

  3. The taillamps with orange brake lamps and red taillamps were mandated in Germany from 1 January 1935 (§22 Absatz 1 der Verordnung über die Zulassung von Personen und Fahrzeugen zum Straßenverkehr (Straßenverkehrszulassungsordnung, StVZO, Reichsgesetzblatt I Nr. 59/1934, Seite 462) vom 28. Mai 1934).

    Additionally, the German traffic code from 1937 required the Winker (trafficators) to be gelbrot (§ 54 Absatz 1 der Verordnung über die Zulassung von Personen und Fahrzeugen zum Straßenverkehr (Straßenverkehrszulassungsordnung, StVZO, Reichsgesetzblatt I Nr. 123/1937, Seite 1215) vom 13. November 1937).

    No explanation is given for the odd choice of colour. The German word for amber colour is gelbrot (yellow-red). Germans have funny ways of labelling colour: rotgelb (red-yellow) which is German for Russet potato—one variety of Russet potato is of darker shade of red. The 1934 advertisement from Hella for the new taillamps used the term, rotgelb (red-yellow). Perhaps, something was lost in translation between the law and manufacturers…

    Perhaps the choice of colour for the automotive use would be good topic for the future article.

    1. It’s written for JT. With love from the Lane Museum.

      I can imagine this will cause quite a few fisticuffs at the The Scarlet Lighter and when JT goes for a second round at The Clear Nacho, he might rile up the Backlighters as well.

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